Anyone who loves cars knows that buying a new car isn't just exciting; it’s like starting a romance.
Make, model, color, horsepower, seating options, fuel mileage, power-equipment packages, warranty, GPS, Bluetooth connectivity, iPod docks - all of these are critical considerations, right? And don't forget about getting a great purchase price and the potential resale value when it comes time to replace ol' Betsy in a few years.
But what about safety features? After all, just like love, there are some practical aspects that have to be considered when buying a new car; not every decision can be made with your heart. Some still have to be made with your head.
It’s easy to assume that all the safety stuff has been sorted out by the auto industry and that all new cars are pretty much the same, but the reality is that there are still some very big differences in safety features between new cars today, even amongst different models from the same automaker. A lot of time has passed since the steel coffins of the 1950's and 60's plied the motorways, and since that time some great (and occasionally not-so-great) ideas have been developed to make our automobiles both safer and more efficient, but it's up to you to make sure you take advantage of these improvements in your next purchase.
Where To Start
Before your next new car purchase, be sure to do some careful research on whatever sweet set of wheels tickles your fancy, and compare it to other direct competitors. This is important because a small financial savings in initial purchase price could mean a big trade-off safety wise if you sacrifice key safety features for a lower price tag.
Basically, automobile safety features fall into two categories: active safety devices, and secondary safety devices.
Active safety devices are the features that are constantly working to keep you safe as you drive down the road. These include headlights, anti-lock brakes, stability control systems, and parking sensors.
Secondary safety devices are the features built into the car that protect you in the event of a crash, and while they often take an out-of-sight-out-of-mind place in many motorists’ lives, these secondary features are critically important and should not be overlooked. Examples can include airbags, crumple zones, seat belts, and the design and shape of the car itself.
Crash Test Ratings
One of the best ways to check the safety of your potential new caris to review its performance by third party testing agencies such as the Euro NCAP in Europe, JNCAP in Japan, ANCAP in Oceania, or NHSTA in the USA.
These groups have the enviable the job of taking brand new cars and crashing them into other cars, objects, and people (not real people of course, but human analogs with lots of data sensors attached to determine how much injury they receive in a crash). After this, testers will provide scores on how safely the car performed; higher ratings mean a safer car.
These agencies also cover non-impact tests like braking distance, stability and grip, and most results are available for free online or through consumer reporting-type magazines.
Be aware that not all testing groups perform the same tests or use the same testing parameters, so it is a good idea to check out the results (and methodologies used) from a few agencies and then compare findings, for a better understanding of the particular make and model of car you are considering.
Driver Assistance Aids
No doubt, you are a nearly on par with a professional rally car driver when it comes to driving prowess and car control, but even the pros can use some help from time to time. Driver assistance aids are electronic sensors that monitor your driving, speed, road conditions, available traction, and in some cases even how close other cars are to you and when you should turn on or dim your headlights; the assistance aid can then make adjustments such as reducing power or applying the brakes to keep the car under control. While these electronic watchdogs take some of the excitement away from auto racing, they can be lifesaving when driving home from work on a rainy evening.
Not every aid is available for every car, because some are offered as optional equipment, but selecting to use these safety features on your next ride may greatly reduce the likelihood of an accident in the future.
Wearing a seatbelt no matter where you are seated in a vehicle is a no-brainer when it comes to reducing your chances of injury in an accident.
Mandatory on all new automobiles for the past several decades, seatbelts come as standard equipment in every new car. However, you should consider your family members when making an auto purchase, since some new cars cater better to children's needs with adjustable seat belts that can be moved up or down according to size, and attachment points for easily installing a child safety seat.
Take a Test Drive
Until you have actually sat behind the wheel, you really can't understand how the car “fits” you. If the seating position is awkward or visibility is poor out the sides or rear of the car, you are more likely to have an accident, regardless of how much safety equipment your new car comes with.
By driving before you buy, you have an opportunity to decide if you will be happy with the way the car behaves on the road, because buying a new car that you hate to drive is like owning new shoes that are too small; they may look good, but you can't really enjoy them.
One place that many people fail to test out their potential purchase is at home. If possible, take the test vehicle to your home and make sure it fits in your garage or parking space. This can eliminate a potential major disappointment when trading up to a bigger car only to discover that it can't be parked easily or conveniently, or that it offers poor visibility when pulling out of the garage and thus puts the driver and passengers in danger every time they set off.
Safety Equipment Saves Money
While ordering a new car with optional equipment usually adds to the price, this extra cost can often be offset through discounts in your auto insurance premium, so long as you tell them that what safety options your new car has. And in the unfortunate event that you have to put all that safety equipment to use in an accident, it may not only save you money in medical bills, but can also save your life.